For the Clash, by the Clash

Isn't a lavish, coffee-table hardcover book on "The Only Band That Mattered" something of a sellout, a blatant attempt at a cold-cash grab reaching out to middle-aged men whose Mohawks have turned gray or mall kids who think the Ramones are too soft?

Apparently so, according to co-author and Clash skin thumper Topper Headon, who dissed this tome in the pages of the New York Times, noting that it simply collected a bunch of old interviews and that Joe Strummer would be spinning in his grave about it.

You know what I say? Bollocks!

For any real fan of the Clash, this heavy effort is a must-have for the bookshelf, coffee table, or dilapidated squat. And as for Strummer, despite his proletarian beliefs, he always wanted to be a rock star. So he'd probably be proud that his band is worthy of such an effort almost 25 years after disintegrating. Recent releases like the Strummer documentary The Future Is Unwritten and the Live at Shea Stadium CD seem to bear this out.

True, the bulk of the book's text is taken from oral interviews with the four "classic" lineup members (sorry, Terry Chimes), and some of it was used for the Clash documentary Westway to the World. But the publisher points out that it also includes new material and research, along with scores of amazing photos of the band, the punk scene, record sleeves, posters, and rare memorabilia.

It's the Clash's own story in their own words, à la "The Beatles Anthology." And while subjectivity, of course, comes into play — read Marcus Gray's biography Last Gang in Town as supplemental nutrition — there are still plenty of stories and incidents told that are additions to the known history.

The book also reproduces itineraries for every Clash performance. For example, the band played Houston twice: October 5, 1979, at Cullen Auditorium with pal Joe Ely, and June 5, 1982, at Hofheinz Pavilion. A full-page concert poster from the latter date is reproduced in the book, noting that tickets were available at "Ticketmaster, Montgomery Ward and Sound Warehouse."

If the book has a weakness, it's that the band's Combat Rock era, when the Clash achieved its greatest commercial success and when tensions between Jones and Strummer at last came to a head, is glossed over a bit quickly. Also, why no name check of last-lineup members Nick Sheppard, Vince White, Pete Howard, and their tour/record?

So, dear Topper, co-writer of "Rock the Casbah," if The Clash is really not what you want as part of the group's legacy, I'm sure you'll be signing away your royalty checks from the book to the charity of your choice. Let me suggest Strummerville, your old lead singer's still-going organization to help struggling musicians. I'm sure you can get the pounds direct-deposited.

The Clash, by Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Topper Headon. Grand Central Publishing, 384 pages, $45.

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Bob Ruggiero